Terry Heaton tells the story well, so I am going to quote him wholesale....
Let me introduce you to 22-year old Annie Sewell-Jennings of Charleston, South Carolina. She describes herself as "just your average Internet geek who really doesn't like our president," and because of that, the FBI now has a file on her. Here's why:
On her LiveJournal blog, "Anniesj," she recently wrote some not-so-kind things (she calls it satire) about President Bush. Annie wrote in a later entry: "We laughed, we ranted, we all said some things. I thought it was a fairly harmless (and rather obvious) attempt at humor in the face of annoyance, and while a couple of people were offended, as is typical behavior from me, I saw something shiny and forgot about it, thinking that the whole thing was over and done and nothing else would come of what I said."
But it wasn't over. Tuesday night, the Secret Service showed up at her door. Somebody had tipped the FBI, and the Secret Service wanted Annie to know that what she'd written could be understood as a threat to the President. She apologized and posted her adventure for all to read.
She was kind enough this afternoon to answer a couple of my questions by email. She said she doesn't think people realize how seriously the government takes threats and noted that the Secret Service told her they don't like publicity. "Which seems silly, in a sense, because I would think that educating people about the finer points of satire would be helpful in the sense that it would at least keep harmless people from clogging up the complaint lines."
What was the essence of the rant that got you into trouble?
I made a post to my LiveJournal the morning after the final presidential debate, during which President Bush said something along the lines of how he could feel it every time someone prayed for him. Irked, I posted my own "prayer", in which I asked God (after stating that I don't actually believe in God, therefore rendering this prayer meaningless) to inspire Bush and his cronies to commit mass suicide. I then made the joke that if we all prayed hard enough together, maybe we could give Bush an aneurysm. My friends and I laughed, I thought everything was okay, and then two weeks later, the Secret Service show up because someone found it threatening.
I apologized to the Secret Service and I stand by that apology -- I did not know that what I said could be construed as a threat against the President's safety, and I understand how that could seem threatening. They were very considerate and polite, and they understood that what I said was a joke but warned me not to say anything along those lines again. Believe me, I certainly won't. Lesson learned.
What's happened to/with you since you let the world know that the Feds are keeping an eye on you?
I've been really surprised by the outpouring of support and the outpouring of criticism. I can understand that people would doubt the validity of my claim, as I'm just a stranger on the Internet, but some of the comments about how the Secret Service would never investigate a matter like this are unsettling. I can't make people believe my personal story, but I hope they can at least take with them the knowledge that they should be very careful about what they say, lest they end up with a visit from the Secret Service, too.
I've also been really surprised by the way this thing has spread across the Internet. I've been contacted by a couple of other media outlets, and I saw earlier that this post made it to MichaelMoore.com, which was kind of cool.
It's good to know that people are at least reading the message, even if some of them don't want to take anything from it. Spreading awareness about the limits of free speech on the Internet is always a good thing. I think a lot of people take the Internet to be completely anonymous and separate from their real lives, and the fact of the matter is that's just not true.
She sounds like a smart young lady to me. Annie's experience should be a big lesson for all of us. In cyberspace, never assume anything is private — ever. That means email and everything else. And if you're a blogger, for crying out loud be careful about what you post, even in the comments section of somebody else's blog. The first amendment is not absolute, and it's pretty easy to find you.
Never say anything on the Internet or email you would not want on the front page of your newspaper. PERIOD.